Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back to the Hippodrome

It had to happen, I guess. As predicted some years ago in Stephen King's now prescient novella "The Running Man," there would come a time when society's tastes would revert to a tradition as ancient as human civilization itself - the need for blood. Be it watching a public hanging in the nineteenth century, or rounding up the family for a picnic alongside the daily guillotine show in revolutionary France, the public's willingness to court death as a form of entertainment has never really waned.

In the time of the Roman Empire, as was made known widely through the film Gladiator, the Roman mob was kept sated with a constant stream of gladiatorial contests where two armed men entered a ring, and one man would leave standing. Failing having two armed men at the ready to square off, throwing some poor sap into the ring with bears, lions, or other decidedly deadly predators did just fine in a pinch. As Rome faded into the mists and gaudy fashions of the Visigoths, the Byzantine Empire carried on that tradition through their extremely brutal chariot races in the Hippodromes. It was an organized form of mayhem and death packaged well for public consumption.

The twentieth century seemed to change that for a while. With death and destruction through two world wars, numerous genocides, and more than a few worldwide epidemics, the need to witness violence as a form of entertainment waned considerably. The most violent event about was probably American football, until recently when the ultimate fighting leagues gained popularity.

Still, be it football or ultimate fighting, the contestants were not fighting for their lives, and nor were they poor saps stuck in a terrible spot. The wanted to be where they were, and were trained fully for their tasks. In other words, they were professionals, so whatever misfortune came their way came as much through their own doing as through the hand of capricious fate.

But things have changed, it seems. No longer content to see willing parties engage in potentially tragic events, the public wants unwilling participants hit head on by life changing tragedy. To sate this need, Fox has ordered up a brand new reality series, along the lines of Cops, except where instead of watching criminals get arrested, you get to watch as ordinary folk are fired from their jobs, and cast out into the world, all hopes, dreams, and plans shattered.

What's next? The death row reality hour? I wouldn't bet against it.

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